The ever-growing list of stuff Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has been accused of is already incredible. But here’s something that truly boggles the mind: Last year, Pruitt met with a Roman Catholic cardinal who also happens to be facing charges of “multiple historic sexual offenses” just because said cardinal doesn’t believe in global warming.
Then he tried to cover it up.
Yes, really. Per the New York Times, while at the G-7 summit in Bologna in June 2017, Pruitt met with Cardinal George Pell at a rooftop restaurant in the five-star hotel where the EPA chief was staying. Earlier this year, Australian courts ruled that Pell would stand trial on accusations related to decades of alleged abuse (including allegedly covering up abuse by other priests) that have been widespread public knowledge since at least 2016, and were certainly within the EPA’s knowledge at the time of the dinner.
Though EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox told the Times it was not a “private one-on-one dinner” and Pruitt was neither aware of the allegations or the cardinal’s presence, Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations Kevin Chmielewski and other sources contested that account:
An internal debate over whether to proceed with any meeting with Cardinal Pell had begun well before Mr. Pruitt left for Italy, according to three current and former agency officials. Mark Kasman, a career E.P.A. official who helps supervise international affairs at the agency, found media reports describing the allegations against Cardinal Pell and approached Mr. Chmielewski with them, Mr. Chmielewski said, urging the agency to cancel any such meetings. Mr. Chmielewski said he relayed the concern to Mr. Pruitt.
(Chmielewski, by the way, is one of the EPA staff allegedly fired for contesting Pruitt’s habit of blowing the agency’s budget on lavish expenses like private flights, 24/7 security, office renovations, and vacations.)
Both men being climate change deniers, it seems they had quite a bit to talk about. During the dinner, the Times reported, one primary topic of discussion was Pruitt’s plan to stage public debates over the established science on climate change—really just a completely normal thing for the US’ top environmental official to be discussing with an alleged serial child abuser.
Chmielewski told the Times that staff subsequently decided to try and hide all evidence of the meeting and that they considered this a “no-brainer.” At least four versions of Pruitt’s “formal and detailed schedule” obtained by the Times mention the dinner, though none of them mention Pell’s name. They do, however, mention other attendees, which reveal that the only listed attendees besides Pruitt and Pell were two other EPA staff. (There were a few others, including the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo.) So to the extent that this was not a “one-on-one dinner,” it was still pretty intimate.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Pruitt’s two-day trip to Rome cost $120,000, and the restaurant in question serves a set menu starting at $240 a person that includes smoked lobster and roasted pigeon (not including wine). So at least Pruitt had one hell of a good time with the cardinal before he decided it was better off if no one knew about it.
Gizmodo has reached out to the EPA for comment, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.